The extent to which COVID-19 has affected social relationships of veterans will not be fully understood until the health crisis has ended. A recent report published in the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, compiled by a number of mental health, social work, and defense experts, states that COVID-19 has had “a major impact on the environment in which mental health care for veterans and former service personnel needs to be sustained.” Veterans with PTSD may find it more challenging to isolate and as treatment is interrupted, the risk of aggressive behavior towards others may increase. Thus, continual treatment is key to reducing their risk to themselves and to their family members and friends. Of course, interrupted treatment programs are just one way in which the pandemic can affect personal relationships.
The need to isolate is undoubtedly having a mental health impact on veterans and other Americans. Research by G Wilson et al has found that military veterans present unique experiences of loneliness and social isolation and that this is especially the case among older veterans. Those who are isolated at home may find company in another family member, but they may no longer be able to enjoy visits with children and grandchildren or the social occasions that are veritable lifelines for those who feel lonely.
Many veterans may have to cancel plans (including summer vacations) with friends and family – a fact that can only exacerbate the isolation they may already feel throughout the year. Of course, there are always exceptions. A 99-year-old veteran recently made the news when he recovered from COVID-19 quickly enough to surprise his granddaughter on her wedding day. Clearly, love during COVID-19 prevails, meaning many family members may decide to continue with wedding and personal plans that involve families getting together. Some couples, however, are willing to wait for as long as needed for things to blow over. These couples usually opt for something called a “pre-engagement period” which is celebrated with a pre engagement ring. In essence, it’s a season that prepares the couple for their engagement and married years together. In other words, it’s a type of commitment that comes without a time constraint, on either the engagement or marriage.
Important Steps To Take
There are many ways in which the effects of isolation can be ameliorated in veterans during the pandemic. These include the provision of telemedicine consultations, the provision of managed social gatherings, increased monitoring and support for vets who are particularly at risk, and the provision of greater support for health professionals attending to veterans. Family and friends can also ensure veterans feel accompanied via video conferencing, regular calls, and (if permitted and indicated) controlled visits in outdoor areas where social distancing is possible. Support networks should check up on loved ones more often to ensure they receive professional care (including online psychological support) if required.
The pandemic is taking a big mental health toll around the world, with many feeling stressed and anxious about the uncertainty of the situation and its effect on health and the economy. Veterans who are already battling stress and anxiety can be particularly vulnerable to these issues and to the effects of isolation. Greater care should be provided — including opportunities for teletherapy and (where permissible) safe social gatherings in which social distancing and hygienic norms are followed to the letter.